Water Leaks May Take Longer to Fix

Gulfport's water woes are growing. The city that's been flooded with criticism about water bills is now trying to wade through complaints about water leaks left unrepaired. Public works officials say they have 300 requests for water or sewer repairs waiting. Half of those requests are more than a month old.

Optech, the company hired to handle fixes for the city, has pulled crews off of repair jobs to install water meters in the Orange Grove area. Officials say they don't have the manpower to handle the 40 to 50 calls they're getting each day. That means people reporting leaks may have to wait a month or more to get them fixed.

Percy Manning says two weeks ago he reported a small leak to the city of Gulfport. Since then, the leak across the street from his home has grown. Monday morning, workers put cones out around the leak, but left the water flowing.

Manning said "We would call and report it and we would get a statement of 'We're in a system of work orders and you're on the list, so when we'll get there we'll get it fixed.'"

Manning says he was told there are too many water leaks for crews to be able to fix them quickly. There are about 100 according to the Public Works Department.

Optech says the backlog comes from sending workers to install waters meters in Orange Grove where some residents have been complaining about extremely high bills. However, Public Works Director Kris Riemann says the city added three crews to last year's contract with Optech.

"Those are the crews installing the meters. It's Optech's original crews' responsibility to handle the leaks," said Riemann. "So if the leaks are falling behind, it's Optech's responsibility."

Optech spokesman Bobby Knesal says the company is using the additional crews to install meters, but it has also pulled two employees on the regular maintenance crew to assist. He says Public works director Kris Riemann was not aware of this move.

Knesal says there have been an unusually high number of leaks this summer, and Optech realizes the need to get them fixed. He expect that the two employees will be back doing their normal routine shortly.